Tim Blagg

Blagg: Legislative lesson plan

I’m deeply suspicious of attempts by legislators to specify what courses should be taught in public schools and what the content of those courses should be.

Over the years, we’ve seen states try to demand that their schools teach the Biblical version of creation as an “alternative” to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

In other places, sex education classes have either been mandatory or forbidden, depending on how red or blue a state has become.

For that reason, I was not happy to see that our own General Court is considering dipping a toe or two into the murky waters of modern education. In fact, more than 20 bills on various education mandates are scheduled for a hearing at 10 a.m. on Oct. 31 at the Statehouse in Boston.

The proposals include making it a legal requirement that the state’s schools teach about recycling, the history of working people and the labor movement, the Ukrainian Famine Genocide of 1932-1933, civics — including the functions of local, state, and federal government, responsibilities and duties as an American citizen — opportunities for voter participation, exposure to current events and identification of government officials, the Bible and international religions “for the purpose of promoting morality and brotherhood,” and historical incidents of genocide, including at least two of the following: the genocide of Armenian Christians, the Holocaust and Nazi concentration camps, the slaughter of Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge, and the slaughter of Bosnian Muslims, Rwandan Tutsis and Darfurians.

Other bills suggest that the Department of Education prepare a curricula on financial literacy focused on understanding taxes, loans, interest, credit card debt, rights and responsibilities of renting or buying a home, saving, investing and planning for retirement and balancing a checkbook, media literacy including the knowledge and skills for accessing, analyzing, evaluating, creating and participating in the 21st-century media culture and the history of social movements, current events and community-based action and service-learning projects.

Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be teaching some of these things in our schools — most of them sound like good subjects.

But I’m not sure that passing legislation is the way to make that happen.

Crafting curricula is a complex, difficult process, and it’s probably best left to the experts — both at the state and local levels.

There are considerations of staffing for courses, money for them, classroom time, testing requirements and a whole host of other things that have to be taking into account.

And I didn’t see anything about funding these courses in the legislation.

If it were up to me, no student would graduate from high school in Massachusetts without knowing: how to balance a checkbook, how to do taxes, how to buy a car, how to swim, how to perform basic first aid and CPR, how to rewire a lamp, how to change a tire, safe sex practices, how to cook decent, nutritious meals, how government works (and doesn’t work!)... well, the list goes on and on.

We all have our own list, I would guess.

But adding these things to MCAS requirements is like packing five pounds in a three-pound bag ... something’s got to give.

I think the Legislature needs to stay out of the way, and concentrate on making sure our schools have enough money to operate and give our kids a good, modern education.

That’s our lawmakers’ most important job.

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.

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